The Brotherhood Isn't Backing Down

CAIRO -- In what may be Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy's final day in office, Muslim Brotherhood officials continued to strike a defiant note against their civilian and military opponents.

The Egyptian military's deadline for all political forces to reconcile -- a possibility that seems more remote than ever -- will expire around 5 p.m. in Cairo. After that time, the country's top generals have promised to lay out a political roadmap that reportedly includes plans to suspend the constitution, dissolve the Islamist-dominated Shura Council, and set up an interim council to rule the country. But Egypt's Islamist elite have vowed to defy the ultimatum, even at the risk of bloodshed.

Essam el-Erian, a Brotherhood leader and vice chairman of the movement's political party, said that wise men should convince the army to back down lest it "meet the same fate as the Syrian Baathist army," according to the Egyptian daily al-Ahram.

Morsy himself has also showed no signs of backing down. In a speech last night, he harped on the concept of his legitimacy -- repeating the word a total of 57 times -- which he said was conferred by his democratic election and made it unthinkable for him to step down from power.  "If the price of preserving legitimacy is my blood, I am prepared to pay it," he said.

Other Brotherhood leaders have also made comments seemingly preparing their supporters for violence. Brotherhood leader Mohamed el-Beltagy told a pro-Morsy crowd gathered in Cairo's Raba'a el-Adaweyya Square on Monday, "We swear to God, we won't allow any coup against legitimacy, except over our dead bodies."

But even as the Muslim Brotherhood is digging in, the pillars of its support appear to be crumbling all around it. Many state institutions are in open rebellion: The front page of the state newspaper al-Ahram trumpeted that the day would bring Morsy's "dismissal or resignation." Even the Twitter account of the Egyptian Cabinet has fallen out of the president's hands: In a message posted this morning, the account denounced Morsy's speech, saying that it "will lead to civil war."

More importantly, even some of the Brotherhood's Islamist allies are stepping away from what they appear to see as a sinking ship. On Monday, the Salafist Nour Party released a statement urging Morsy to call early presidential elections and establish a technocratic government. The Salafi Dawa, another hardline movement, delivered a similar message.

The Brotherhood's defiance has seemingly provoked an increasingly harsh response from the security forces. Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater's house was fired upon by police officers, and his bodyguards were arrested. There have also been reports that the military slapped a travel ban on top Brotherhood officials.

The stage, then, seems set for a confrontation in just a few short hours. As a post on a popular Facebook page close to the armed forces put it, the military is prepared to defend the country from "terrorists, radicals, and fools."



Sorry, Obama, Soccer Balls Won't Bring Progress to Africa

President Barack Obama generated a feel-good photo-op on Tuesday in Tanzania when he took a few moments to play with the Soccket, an ingenious soccer ball that can power an LED light for three hours after you kick it around for 30 minutes. Simply play with the ball, and then plug the light into the Soccket's socket.

After some good-natured showboating (he headed the ball), Obama explained, "The Soccket turns one of the most popular games in Africa into a source of electricity and progress. You can imagine this in villages all across the continent."

But we have some bad news for the president: It's pretty difficult to imagine Socckets electrifying every village once you learn the price tag: $99 per ball. As Charles Kenny and Justin Sandefur write in the latest issue of Foreign Policy:

It really is a neat trick that a soccer ball only 2 ounces heavier than regulation weight can enclose a battery and technology pack that generates power from rolling. Then again, you can get a solar-powered lamp for $10. It isn't clear why anyone would pay 10 times that for a light whose power source you have to kick around for half an hour to get less illumination.

The authors' larger point is that seemingly ingenious solutions to poverty often fail in real life because they get funding "on the basis of their appeal to donors and philanthropists in the West rather than consumers in Africa." The idea of kicking a ball to make electricity sounds cool, but if you're a mom, say, how fun is it to plead with your kids to "play" with a ball for 30 minutes so you can get some light?

The only real way to know, as Kenny and Sandefur suggest, is the market test: Consumers buy a product if they like it and can afford it; if not, the product flops. But many poverty-alleviating innovations don't face much of a market test. The end users aren't the ones buying the product; the donors are. Thus users can't provide direct market feedback so producers know whether their innovation works or not. (Case in point: PlayPumps.)

Perhaps one day the two young, inspiring women who invented the Soccket while studying at Harvard University will refine the ball so it's more affordable and better-tailored to the needs of African consumers. (A $10 Soccket 3.0 has been "coming soon!" since July 6, 2011.) Until then, it's worth considering the question Bill Gates tweeted today in response to Kenny and Sandefur's article: "Can we encourage the market to create new tech that the poor can't create on their own?"

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